Skip to main content

Main Area

Main

Closest presidential elections from U.S. history

  • #18. 1856: James Buchanan vs. John Frémont

    - Winner: James Buchanan (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 174 of 296 (58.8%)
    --- Popular votes received: 1,835,140 (45.3%)
    - Runner-up: John Frémont (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 114 of 296 (38.5%)
    --- Popular votes received: 1,341,264 (33.1%)
    - Voter turnout: 79.4%

    In the three-way election of 1856, Democratic candidate James Buchanan triumphed over an anti-immigration leaning Know Nothing nominee former President Millard Fillmore and Republican nominee John C. Frémont. The central issue of slavery made it an especially contentious election, as the Republican Party sought to limit its effects, and Democrats were pro-slavery.

    [Pictured: Campaign poster for Democratic presidential nominee James Buchanan, 1856.]

  • #17. 1888: Benjamin Harrison vs. Grover Cleveland

    - Winner: Benjamin Harrison (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 233 of 401 (58.1%)
    --- Popular votes received: 5,443,892 (47.8%)
    - Runner-up: Grover Cleveland (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 168 of 401 (41.9%)
    --- Popular votes received: 5,540,309 (48.6%)
    - Voter turnout: 80.5%

    In the 1888 presidential election, Republican candidate Benjamin Harrison defeated incumbent Democratic President Grover Cleveland. It was the third of five elections in which the winner of the presidency didn’t win the plurality of the nation’s popular vote.

    [Pictured: President Benjamin Harrison, 1888.]

  • #16. 1880: James Garfield vs. Winfield Scott Hancock

    - Winner: James Garfield (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 214 of 369 (58%)
    --- Popular votes received: 4,453,337 (48.3%)
    - Runner-up: Winfield Scott Hancock (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 155 of 369 (42%)
    --- Popular votes received: 4,444,952 (48.2%)
    - Voter turnout: 80.5%

    Republican candidate James Garfield won over Democratic nominee Winfield Scott Hancock after incumbent President Rutherford B. Hayes did not seek reelection. It marked the sixth consecutive presidential win for the Republican Party.

    [Pictured: James Garfield.]

  • #15. 1836: Martin Van Buren vs. William Henry Harrison

    - Winner: Martin Van Buren (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 170 of 294 (57.8%)
    --- Popular votes received: 763,291 (50.8%)
    - Runner-up: William Henry Harrison (Whig)
    --- Electoral votes received: 73 of 294 (24.8%)
    --- Popular votes received: 550,816 (36.6%)
    - Voter turnout: 56.5%

    Martin Van Buren won the 1836 presidential election, defeating Whig nominee William Henry Harrison. Van Buren became the third incumbent Vice President to be elected president, which didn’t happen again until George H.W. Bush won in 1988. It was a major election in terms of solidifying the United States’ two-party system.

    [Pictured: Martin Van Buren.]

  • #14. 1948: Harry Truman vs. Thomas Dewey

    - Winner: Harry Truman (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 303 of 531 (57.1%)
    --- Popular votes received: 24,179,347 (49.6%)
    - Runner-up: Thomas Dewey (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 189 of 531 (35.6%)
    --- Popular votes received: 21,969,170 (45%)
    - Voter turnout: 52.2%

    In one of the United States’ greatest election upsets, incumbent Democratic President Harry S. Truman defeated Republican candidate Thomas Dewey. Although Dewey was overwhelmingly predicted to win because of Truman’s low approval ratings, he went on to achieve the Democratic party’s fifth consecutive presidential win.

    [Pictured: American President, Harry S Truman smiles and waves to the excited Kansas City crowd after hearing the news that he had won the United States elections and retained the presidency, 1948.]

    You may also like: From Stonewall to today: 50 years of modern LGBTQ+ history

  • #13. 2016: Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton

    - Winner: Donald Trump (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 304 of 538 (56.5%)
    --- Popular votes received: 62,984,828 (46.1%)
    - Runner-up: Hillary Clinton (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 227 of 538 (42.2%)
    --- Popular votes received: 65,844,610 (48.1%)
    - Voter turnout: 60.2%

    Republican candidate Donald Trump defeated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the first woman to win her party’s nomination, in the 2016 election. It was the fifth and most recent presidential election in which the winning president won the Electoral College, but lost the popular vote.

    [Pictured: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speak during the town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, 2016.]

  • #12. 1960: John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon

    - Winner: John F. Kennedy (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 303 of 537 (56.4%)
    --- Popular votes received: 34,220,984 (49.7%)
    - Runner-up: Richard Nixon (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 219 of 537 (40.8%)
    --- Popular votes received: 34,107,646 (49.5%)
    - Voter turnout: 63.8%

    In the 1960 presidential election, Democratic Senator John. F. Kennedy won over incumbent Republican Vice President Richard Nixon. It was the first election in which all 50 states participated, and the last in which the District of Columbia didn’t participate. Democrats benefitted from the economic recession of 1957 to 1958, which hurt the Republican Party’s reputation.

    [Pictured: Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kennedy (L) and Vice President Richard M. Nixon meet here for a debate before television cameras, 1960.]

  • #11. 1848: Zachary Taylor vs. Lewis Cass

    - Winner: Zachary Taylor (Whig)
    --- Electoral votes received: 163 of 290 (56.2%)
    --- Popular votes received: 1,360,235 (47.3%)
    - Runner-up: Lewis Cass (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 127 of 290 (43.8%)
    --- Popular votes received: 1,220,544 (42.5%)
    - Voter turnout: 72.8%

    The election of 1848 took place after the Mexican-American War, and saw Whig candidate Zachary Taylor defeat Democratic nominee Lewis Cass. He is the most recent person to win the presidency who was not part of the Democratic or Republican parties.

    [Pictured: Zachary Taylor, 1848.]

  • #10. 1968: Richard Nixon vs. Hubert Humphrey

    - Winner: Richard Nixon (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 301 of 538 (56%)
    --- Popular votes received: 31,783,783 (43.4%)
    - Runner-up: Hubert Humphrey (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 191 of 538 (35.5%)
    --- Popular votes received: 30,898,055 (42.7%)
    - Voter turnout: 62.5%

    Former Republican Vice President Richard Nixon triumphed over incumbent Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election. The election year was marked by turmoil—Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, and there was widespread opposition to the Vietnam War.

    [Pictured: American politician Richard Nixon gives the 'V' for victory sign after receiving the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention, Miami, Florida, 1968.]

  • #9. 1976: Jimmy Carter vs. Gerald Ford

    - Winner: Jimmy Carter (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 297 of 538 (55.2%)
    --- Popular votes received: 40,831,881 (50.1%)
    - Runner-up: Gerald Ford (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 240 of 538 (44.6%)
    --- Popular votes received: 39,147,770 (48%)
    - Voter turnout: 54.8%

    Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter won over incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford in the 1976 election. Carter was the only Democrat to win the presidency from 1968 to 1992.

    [Pictured: Jimmy Carter, 1976.]

    You may also like: Worst-run cities in America